This is a guest blog from my friend and colleague Maxine Craig who is Head of Organisation Development at South Tees NHS Trust and visiting Professor ( Sunderland University).
Maxine can be found on Twitter on @Maxine_craig and she would welcome conversations about this blog.
Maxine’s blog speaks for itself – so here it is:
This week whilst at a training event in the coffee break a lady approached me and asked me “Was I Maxine Craig who is part of this ‘NHS Compassion Malarkey’? ” – now this has hit a nerve!
I have worked in the NHS since I was 17 and this ‘malarkey’ has been my life for 33 years. Ensuring patients get the best we can give and staff are well and healthy is my purpose. It’s no malarkey!
This is what a malarkey is:
I believe there is a compelling case for change in the delivery of care; the latest Panorama programme surely reinforces that? – Yet I sense that a back lash about compassion is building.
For the past year I have been making myself available to help people think about the issues we face, making spaces where people can think more deeply about compassion in our lives. And I am learning that everyone I speak to in the NHS, social care and wider society recognises that something about it needs fixing. Everyone appears to have a perspective on the general lack of compassion in the wider world and that the NHS needs to ‘do’ compassion better.
This is a real puzzle for me. I work in a great organisation and I witness compassion every day, in abundance, and I see situations where compassion in lacking; It’s not as clear cut as the media would have everyone think. I am worried that being compassionate is becoming an industry in our health and social care settings, others also express this view and some are becoming cynical of anything with a compassion label. I would like us to pick out and continue the genuine good work.
In all of my learning I have found that people find talking about compassion rather uncomfortable. Yes, everyone has an opinion, a surface view. Some people have been deeply affected by a positive experience of compassion in their lives and some hurt by a gap in compassion. Everyone who comes to talk about compassion has some interest, and I have noticed that many have some degree of discomfort.
I think this is because it’s about all of us, not just the bad guys who don’t do it! It has the potential to make us feel guilty, uncomfortable about our personal struggles and challenges.
At a system level the NHS voices that it wishes to improve compassion but it continues to work in a non-compassionate way and I suspect the care sector is the same. This is a paradox. I do not believe this is a ‘problem’ that needs to be solved but see it as more of a societal context, leaving me as an OD practitioner with a complex and sometimes frustrating dynamic to work in. So I am working to explore and practice the ‘HOW’ of increasing compassion in our system – I want to get on and DO something about it not just talk about it!
The NHS is deeply evidence based. In some parts this might be more espoused theory than theory in use, but it is an important guiding principle. We also wear the cloak of evidence as a defence. Another important fact is that many professionals and managers (and I include myself in this group), actually were professionally socialised at a point in time when the control of emotions and ‘not getting emotionally involved with the patient’ were prized professional competences. The new world of the psychology of work offers a different view, with burn out, compassion fatigue and emotional labour as key and important phenomenon. It is important we remember the shift which has occurred within one generation. As a result of this shift the current reality of the compassionate intervention is very challenging for some.
So I have learned that the very best way into these conversations about compassion and the psychology of work and caring is via the science. The work of Paul Gilbert who established the Compassionate Mind foundation gives us the basis of the neuroscience of emotion (you can read more here) and I have been able to link this to stress in life and wider society.
I have witnessed the relief in people when they come to talk about compassion and are met with the evidence base. It welcomes them in, it is a context they know, it allows them to be open to the practice of compassion. When coming to a talk about compassion people have shared with me that they were worried it would be too soft and fluffy. When I have explored what this means some people say they don’t want ‘new age’ or religious or spiritual. So like all good change agents let’s start where people are at – let’s start with the science!
Compassion is no malarkey; it’s vital and too important to be pushed aside because it makes us uncomfortable.
I am DIGGING IN for the long haul on this one – I want to make sure the NHS and care system is good enough for my dad. Will you join me?